Russia's Sberbank halts retail lending in foreign currencies

MOSCOW, April 2 Wed Apr 2, 2014 11:02am EDT

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MOSCOW, April 2 (Reuters) - Russia's Sberbank has suspended foreign-currency lending to individuals indefinitely because of the rouble's high volatility, it said on Wednesday.

The Russian rouble has been falling sharply since last summer, on expectations of the U.S. Federal Reserve withdrawing its stimulus programme and most recently on fears that Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region would lead to trade sanctions from the West, further damaging the economy.

The rouble is currently trading about 8 percent lower against the dollar than at the start of the year, despite erasing some losses. During the 2008/09 financial crisis, Russian banks also suspended foreign currency lending.

Sberbank, Russia's biggest lender, said it stopped accepting applications for retail loans in foreign currencies on April 1 "to optimise its loan portfolio structure and ensure its stability in the future in case of changes in the foreign currencies' exchange rates".

Foreign-currency lending to corporate clients would continue, a Sberbank spokesman said.

Sberbank issued 1.78 billion roubles ($51 million) of retail loans denominated in foreign currencies last year, out of 2.4 trillion roubles issued in total. ($1 = 35.0870 Russian Roubles) (Reporting by Oksana Kobzeva; Writing by Maria Kiselyova; Editing by Jason Bush and David Goodman)

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